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Erdogan: Aspiring to complete power

Erdogan: Aspiring to complete power

18.03.2017 . Turkey 

The new Presidential system that Parliament is about to adopt bears no resemblance to the French or American systems, but rather to the semi-dictatorial or dictatorial regimes which have dominated Latin-America for a long time. 

In the General Assembly in Ankara, we saw flower pots and insults flying across the hemicycle and some opposition and majority Members of Parliament came to blows. One MP even handcuffed her own wrists as a sign of protest. Nevertheless, at about 2 am on Saturday,January 21st, the Turkish Parliament did eventually vote in favour of the constitutional reform by 339 to 142, which gravely jeopardises the future of democracy in Turkey.

The case for the reform was carried through smoothly. It took the Turkish National Assembly no more than 12 days to vote, for the first time, for the entire constitutional reform proposed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed by a decision on each of the 18 modified articles, before confirming the first vote at a second reading.

Prime Minister for the previous eleven years, R.T. Erdogan did not, in fact, wait to go beyond some of his normally limited constitutional powers

For it to be permanently adopted, and because it only obtained 339 votes (those of the Conservative-Islamists of AKP and the ultra-Nationalists of MHP), this reform must still be approved by the Turks through a referendum, which is due to be held on the 16th of march. 28 extra votes would have been necessary to avoid consulting the general public. If they endorse the vote of the MPs, then Turkey will change its regime. From a Parliamentary system, it will switch to a hyper-Presidential system which Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been aspiring to for years. This new regime will only come into effect after the termination of the current Head of State’s mandate, in 2019, and the re-election of a new president, which could very well be the same person again.

Elected President of the Republic of Turkey in August 2014, after having been Prime Minister for the previous eleven years, R.T. Erdogan did not, in fact, wait to go beyond some of his normally limited constitutional powers (not only the honorary ones, as we are sometimes wrongly informed). Veritable Head of State of the executive, according to the Constitution of 1982, his Prime Minister has become a mere subordinate.

However, whilst the establishment of an American-style Presidential system, or even a French-style semi-Presidential system, was being discussed it is a very different system, which is both authoritarian and unbalanced, that this constitutional reform is about to put in place.

Demise of the separation of powers

The Turkish President will indeed possess all the powers granted to his American counterpart. Elected for a five year term that can only be renewed once, he will be the exclusive holder of executive power, the position of Prime Minister having been abolished. He will have the power to govern by decree in many different areas and to nominate or dismiss his vice-ministers, as well as the ministers and incumbents of essential State positions. In addition, the limitations which control the American President have mostly been removed here: no more checks and balances. The separation of powers has vanished. Parliament and high jurisdictions, the main counterbalances of American Presidential power, will come under the control of the Head of State. There is provision for an impeachment procedure, but it would be difficult to implement.

He will control Parliament. However, he will not be the Prime Minister and he will not be accountable to Parliament which, incidentally, loses most of its power of control over the executive.

Moreover, the new Constitution does not place the President above political parties. He can maintain his partisan links and will presumably become the head of the party which has won the elections, like the Prime Minister is in a Parliamentary system. Hence, he will control Parliament. However, unlike in a Parliamentary system, he will not be the Prime Minister and – overriding yet another limit – he will not be accountable to Parliament which, incidentally, loses most of its power of control over the executive.

The comparison with France leads to the same observations. Like his French counterpart, the Turkish President has the power to unconditionally dissolve the Assembly but, bis repetita, he is not burdened with a Prime Minister and if his party loses the elections he is not constrained to endure the punishment of a “cohabitation” because he will keep his executive powers intact. Or at least he would if not for the fact that the constitutional reform adopts the novel system of a “double guillotine”, which can produce unexpected results: if the President decides to dissolve the Assembly, he automatically puts an end to his own mandate and must also stand for re-election, the idea being that of a simultaneous election of the President and of Parliament.

What name should be given to this new regime?

So it’s neither an American-style regime, nor a French-style regime. How should this new regime be defined? The two limits, which traditionally kept the Turkish regime as a democracy, remain: the political authorities are appointed by popular vote and they are bound to respect the rule of law under the sanctions of the judiciary power, first and foremost that of the Constitutional Court. However, in reality these limits are also considerably undermined: freedom of expression and of the press, conditions for the existence of free elections, are dwindling year after year, and it is now the President, according to the new Constitution, who will name, directly or indirectly, the majority of the members of both supreme judicial entities (the Constitutional Court and the High Council for Judges and Prosecutors). In fact, considering the repression that several hundreds of magistrates have been suffering, those who escape the purges will undoubtedly not be too eager to seriously control those in power.

Turkish regime no longer really resembles any of the models that have been seen so far in democratic countries

Overall, the proposed Turkish regime no longer really resembles any of the models that have been seen so far in democratic countries: it is not a Presidential system, because the separation of powers is no longer assured; it is obviously not the Parliamentary system it was, given that the position of Prime Minister, accountable to Parliament, has disappeared; and it is not, for the same reason, a French-style semi-Presidential system.

What is it then? The terms used vary: one-man rule, dictatorship, “democratorship”, or even as some occasionally risk writing or saying, a “theocratic” or “fascist” dictatorship. Yet these characterisations do not accurately account for the result because it does not follow the traditional blueprints. It is perhaps necessary to look to Latin-America and Africa to find comparable regimes, often characterised as “presidentialist”, which sought to import the American model but were rarely successful. These regimes followed decades punctuated by military coups and dictatorships becoming, for the main part democratic regimes – Chili being undoubtedly an exception. It is justifiable to fear that the same will apply to Turkey.

A “neo-ottoman” regime?

Let’s put forward a final hypothesis. Knowing that Recep Tayyip Erdogan likes to refer to the splendour of the Ottoman regime, and to follow in its footsteps, would he and his advisors have been tempted to reclaim certain aspects, even to institute a “neo-ottoman regime”? In his mind – as in that of his base – the sovereign power of the President is inspired by the traditional authority of the chief, and he is more preoccupied with assuring the greatness of the country than with establishing democracy. After all, did he not say that democracy “is like a tramway: once it has arrived at the terminal, everybody gets off”? If one choses to characterise the new regime as “neo-ottoman”, it must be acknowledged that, once again, the limits normally opposed to the sovereign by means of customs, in countries governed by tradition, whether it be the custom councils, the Oulemas, or the Supreme Guide, are no longer anywhere to be found in Turkey.

“Fear the judgement of History and of the People”, author Oya Baydar wrote

Several people have spoken out to denounce this constitutional reform and to sound the alarm: opponents have come to protest in front of Parliament, leading constitutionalists, led by the President of the Court of Appeal as well as ex-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in person, previous allies of President Erdogan …

Writer Oya Baydar, who has won several literary prizes, including a recent award in France, is very concerned about the future. She even wrote a letter to the MPs to dissuade them from voting for the text that she refers to as “drivel”: “Fear the judgement of History and of the People”, she wrote. “Vote against the new Constitution and withhold your deliberations for later. First rectify the conflicts and hatred which are raging on all sides, so that unity and brotherhood cease to be vain words in your mouths”. The least we can say is that she has not really been heard from the MP. The wheels are turning…Will the people hear her call on referendum day the 16th of april?

Ariane Bonzon

Translation: Mark Corcoral

Photo : DR

Original french version: En Turquie, Erdogan seul chef devant Dieu et son peuple


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